8 May 2003 | DeeNine-2
Something close to a masterpiece
In this starkly realistic examination of love and infidelity among the thirtysomething crowd from down under we learn that you may desire to cheat on your spouse, but it's better if you don't.
Leon Zat, a police detective played with an original and striking demeanor by Anthony LaPaglia, cheats on his wife and finds that his adultery compromises not only his marriage but his performance on the job. He becomes irritable and flies off the handle at things of little importance, and becomes consumed with guilt.
He is not alone. The marriage of John Knox (Geoffrey Rush) and psychiatrist Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey) is falling apart as Knox seeks something from the outside and Somers is torn apart with the suspicion that he is having a homosexual affair, perhaps with one of her clients. Meanwhile Jane O'May (Zat's adulteress played by Rachael Blake) finds that she needs a man, or maybe two, other than her estranged husband. Even Sonja Zat (Kerry Armstrong) feels the pressure and yearns to feel attractive, perhaps with younger men.
More than halfway through we have an apparent murder and an investigation during the course of which some of the adulteries come to light and cause the participants to examine themselves and their lives closely.
Andrew Dovell wrote the subtle, richly attired script, full of penetrating dialogue and an uncompromising veracity, adapting it from his play Speaking in Tongues. Ray Lawrence directed in an unusual but compelling manner in which the scenes are sharply focused and cut to linger in our minds. Again and again I was startled with just how exactly right was something a character said or did. Lawrence's exacting attention to detail gives the film a textured and deeply layered feel so that one has the sense of real life fully lived. The cast is uniformly excellent although LaPaglia stands out because of his most demanding role. His performance is one of the best I have seen in recent years. The only weakness in the film is a somewhat lethargic start, partially caused by Lawrence's cinéma vérité scene construction and editing. What he likes to do is lead us to a realization along with the characters and then punctuate the experience by lingering on the scene, or in other cases by cutting quickly away. Often what other directors might show, he leaves to our imagination, and at other times he shows something seemingly trivial which nonetheless stays in our mind. John Knox's affair, for example, is not shown. Jane O'May and her husband's reconciliation is left to our mind's eye. Yet the scene with Valerie Somers in the lighted telephone booth (with graffiti) is shown at length and then what happens next is not. These are interesting directorial choices.
The ending comes upon us, as it sometimes should, unexpectedly, but then resonates so that we can see and feel the resolution. Not everything is tied up. Again we are left in some cases to use our own imagination.
This original film, one of the best of the new millennium I have seen, stayed with me long after they ran the closing credits. It is well worth the two hours.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)